By Luke Stanczyk
When Coach Ostrowski was asked before the season began about this year’s trip to Florida, he called the schedule a “midwest regional” and one of the toughest slate of games BenU baseball has ever seen on the annual spring trip.
The team’s results seem to prove Ostrowski right, as the team went 4-5 in the nine games last week in central Florida.
Despite the sub-.500 record on the trip, those four wins were certainly filled with a lot of positives. In the trip’s seventh game, the Eagles took down nationally-ranked UW-Whitewater 7-3. On the mound junior Kevin Crowley had his best game of the trip, going 8 1/3 innings to earn the victory. Junior Shay Wagner earned one of his two saves of the week, and BenU’s heart of the order of first baseman Ryan Mullin, catcher Tom Higgins, and third baseman Steve Cocat each supplied two hits and an RBI a piece.
“We feel like when we get ready to play and play with intensity, we can hang with anyone,” said Higgins on the win over Whitewater. “When we play our best ball, there isn’t a team we can’t compete with.”
Two of the team’s other two wins on the trip came behind the arm of senior Mark Belcastro. He opened the trip by throwing 7 1/3 innings of one run ball against Webster, the pre-season favorite to win the SILAC conference. Belcastro followed that up five days later by throwing a complete game shutout against Hope College, lowering his ERA on the season to an outstanding 1.21.
“The biggest difference is that he is able to throw all of his pitches for strikes,” said Higgins of Belcastro, who struggled for most of last season. “With the movement on the ball and the accuracy he has had this year, it makes calling pitches and attacking hitter that much easier.”
Also against Webster, the Eagles were led by junior infielder Chris Wanderling, as the Nazareth Academy product tallied four hits. BenU was led in the win against Hope by way of the stolen base, as the Eagles were able to manufacture runs behind four steals.
The fourth win of the trip for BenU came in come from behind fashion against Grinnell College. Trailing 6-0 after the first inning, the Eagles would score seven unanswered runs and take the lead for good in the bottom of the seventh after senior outfielder Dan Zust stole two bases and scored on a sacrifice fly from Mullin.
Freshman Tim Hendricks broke out in this game, going 2-4 with two RBIs in a starting role.
“It’s not difficult out there once I am on the field because it just feels like baseball,” said Hendricks on starting as a freshman. “I don’t really think about age. We have great captains to help me get adjusted.”
Despite the success, the Eagles did suffer five defeats on the trip. They dropped a tough one early on against another nationally-ranked team: UW-Stevens Point. After the win over Grinnell, the Eagles lost two straight to nationally-ranked St. Thomas (despite home runs from Higgins and John Cervantes) and Union (left five guys on base in the last two innings in a 9-7 loss).
However, the most disappointing losses on the trip may have come on the last day, as Benedictine was swept by St. Olaf after beating UW-Whitewater on the previous day.
“I felt like we came into the game thinking it would be an easy two wins,” explained Higgins. “We lacked intensity and concentration during our pre-game warm-ups.”
Even with the ups and downs of the nine games, the Eagles feel this trip was a positive.
“I think overall, it was a good trip for the team,” Higgins said. “We have seen how well we can play, and we also learned how important it is to show up to the field ready to play.”
BenU’s next game is at North Park University on Wednesday the 28th at 3:30.